I think it's a mistake to regard Rinzai and Soto Zen as opposing schools or even as teaching something different. Sometimes it seems to be a mistake to think that other religions are teaching something different from Zen. I've been listening to audio downloads from an American Rinzai Zen temple called Cho Bo Ji. You can hear these on the RSS feed on the right hand column of this blog, but the best place to get them is as podcasts on iTunes. I've really been enjoying these. Genjo Marinello is as entertaining as he is profound. I can't recommend them enough. This morning he was talking about one of the Koans in the Blue Cliff Record - Daizu's "It will be gone with the other".
A monk asks Daizu if, when this incarnation of the universe comes to an end, 'It' (meaning Buddha, the Tao, the absolute) will be destroyed. Daizu says, much to the monk's dismay, 'It will be gone with the other'. Daizu is sabotaging the monk's attempt to clutch onto the essence of reality as something fixed and permanent.
Genjo Marinello then talks about getting to know the eccentric Zen Master and poet Soen Roshi when he was in Japan and recites some of his beautiful haiku:
Sky and water reflecting
He juxtaposes the monks question from the koan with the haiku:
'Will it be gone with the other?'
'It will be gone with the other'.
Yet 'Clearness. Sky and water reflecting my heart'. No talk of 'It'.
Hearing that on the podcast as I drove to work, after a weekend of Zen and visiting old friends in the south west, I had a sense of something profoundly sublime, which was quite overwhelming. It even brought me to tears for a few moments - I had to compose myself so that I didn't crash the car. I can only feebly try to describe it as a sense of a hand reaching out to grasp something and encountering empty space, only to be caressed by a gentle breeze blowing on the skin. Perhaps it shows how much further poetry can go than philosophy.
'Will It perish at the end of the universe?' really means 'is impermanence permanent or impermanent?' or 'does emptiness have a self-nature or not'? Daizu did not want the monk to cling to 'It' as a fixed thing. There are a significant number of Buddhists who interpret the meaning of their religion just like this: all phenomena are empty and impermanent apart from Buddha Nature which is permanent. I think the real meaning of Daizu's response was not 'emptiness has no self'. Nor, I think, did he just want to deny the unborn, undying nature of Buddha just as a teaching device to bring the student away from clinging merely to the idea of it. Reality is not to be regarded as a thing, which either passes out of existence or remains in a state of stasis. Reality is where concepts of birth and death and stasis have no meaning - these are conventions of thought and language - ultimately reality is beyond all of these terms. This is what Nagarjuna meant when he taught the 'emptiness of emptiness'.
Whatever is dependently co-arisen
That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way.
Something that is not dependently arisen,
Such a thing does not exist.
Therefore a nonempty thing
Does not exist.
A monk once asked Joshu “If I have nothing in my mind, what should I do?”
“Throw it out.” Replied Joshu.
“But if there is nothing in my mind how can I throw it out?”
“Then,” said Joshu, “you will have to carry it out.”